Photos chronicle lasting friendship

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

Informed that her sister’s favorite NBA player is Kobe Bryant, Cleta Looney sticks her tongue out and issues a raspberry at Leta.

Cleta, you see, watched every playoff game the Cleveland Cavaliers were in and her favorite, LeBron James, didn’t make it to the NBA Finals.

Cleta Looney and Leta Grimes, though, aren’t exactly youngsters immersed in today’s pop culture.

The two Portales residents just celebrated their 80th birthday together.

They’ve always been interested in sports.

Once, when Cleta and Leta Harris really were youngsters, they forged a friendship with another Portales girl, Cleo Fenton, who the twins say was the best baseball player around.

And that friendship lasted and lasted.

Although Fenton died last March, the bond among the three women is preserved in memories and in cherished photos.

The first photograph dates back to 1939, when the Harris girls were nine and Fenton — who was a twin herself with brother Leo “Bud” Fenton — got together for a picture.

Coincidentally perhaps, after the Harris twins moved to San Jon and graduated from high school there, they had another photo taken. This time, Cleta and Leta were 19 and Cleo was 20.

A tradition was forged when another decade rolled by.

“When she was 30 and we were 29. I think that’s the one we planned,” Leta Grimes recalled. “We got the other two together and that’s when we realized that they were almost exactly 10 years apart and we’d better keep it up.”

Though they would see each other more than just once every decade, the three women made it a point of posing for a shot every 10 years.

Fenton lived much of her life near Pecos, Texas, where Cleta also resided for several years. But all of the photos through the years were taken in Portales.

“I remember coming in from Colorado, I think for the 49th/50th one, I just came in that evening and I was so tired,” Leta Grimes said “They just said, ‘Come on, we’ve got to take those pictures.’ And we did, because I didn’t want to miss it.”

Though the photos are a catalyst for reminisces, the Harris twins do have a couple of regrets. One is that brother Bud wasn’t included with his sister as part of the tradition.

The other is that it won’t continue.

“Well, yeah, we expected a 90 one. Or, at least, to start doing them every five years,” Grimes said.

These days, the somewhat tattered photos are a centerpiece for discussions of how times have changed in the 70 years of the tradition. And these photographs travel.

“I had a grandson killed on a motorcycle. They started a fundraiser scholarship and I got to go,” said Cleta Looney of one trip to Burnet, Texas. “I happened to have my pictures there and my granddaughter wanted to show it to her in-laws.”

Did Looney spread out all eight photos at once?

“Yes I did. I showed them to several people,” she said.

Somewhere, the twins say, their friend Cleo is watching too.